Planning to homeschool your child? Here are some factors that you need to consider before doing it.
By Nirupama Raghavan
Deciding to homeschool a child can be a tough decision. While this method of educating a child has its pros and cons, homeschooling in India is still at a nascent stage, with very few parents opting for this route as there's not enough support from the education boards and the government.
But the Maharashtra Government has decided to turn a new leaf this year. To encourage homeschooling, the state government has recently launched an open board called Maharashtra Open Secondary School Certificate (SSC) Board to benefit athletes, artists and children with disabilities. Under this system, students from Class V to Class XII have the option to appear for exams directly, without attending school. The examinations for these students will be held in June and December every year.
While the application process will be open till January 31, the deadline is likely to be extended, as per reports. To register, a student will have to submit documents like identity proof and school leaving certificate in one of the 543 centres set up across the state.
While this is good news for parents who want to homeschool their child, taking near-total control of your child’s education is not a decision to be made lightly at the spur of the moment. Here, then, is an attempt at sorting the basic factors parents may want to consider, before homeschooling.
There are as many reasons for homeschooling as there are homeschooling parents. Some choose to homeschool for geographical reasons (isolation, emigration); some have gifted children who may not do well in group schooling; some have children with various mental/physical challenges; a surprisingly large number withdraw their children from school in response to bullying, discrimination and plain old dissatisfaction with the system.
‘Homeschooling’ is an umbrella term that covers a plethora of options in breadth and nature. Many parents homeschool up to the first standard; some up to the sixth or eighth; others passed the twelfth, as my parents did. The safety net that the Right to Education Act provides should eliminate most parents’ worries about enrolment possibilities. The curriculum covers a range of methods from traditional instruction to Waldorf, Montessori and Doman methods, from Vedic math to Abacus. Some even enrol their child in a school, and then take partial responsibility for teaching, only sending the child to school for tests and exams, with the administration’s blessing.
Finding full and comprehensive answers to these questions may require some reading/researching/asking around/Googling; so take the time, and do the work. Not only will it make your work easier when you begin, you’ll find yourself more confident of your ground, and more relaxed with your child.
However clear you may be on how you would like to homeschool your child, there are some basic pre-requisites for the plan to be a success:
A well-educated primary parent(PP): This refers only tangentially to formal education; given the state of education in this country, I would consider it infinitely more important that the PP is extremely well-read, a logical and organised teacher. The pool of knowledge required to teach a young child is extensive, more than what is expected of any one teacher in any primary school.
A supportive and enthusiastic secondary parent(SP): Ideally for the emotional stability of the child and the family as a whole, both parents need to be involved in educating the child. The secondary parent, however, may not have as much time to invest in it, and might have to take over more household/logistical support, as is the case with most homeschooling families that I have seen. These roles are completely gender-interchangeable; my father handled half of my primary and a good chunk of my highly arts-oriented secondary education, and I don’t think he is an exception that proves the rule.
A consistent and comprehensive syllabus: Whether you choose to adopt a syllabus (IGCSE, CBSE, State board, etc) or integrate multiple syllabuses, do have clear three-year, one-year, and half-year plans; these should be tailored to your child’s gifts, needs and preferences. This prevents the classes devolving into the interesting but goalless meandering, which is always a risk when everyone is having fun.
Important external resources: Libraries, TV shows, museums, galleries and the internet are important. They provide you with sources of information, both for your child and for the research that you will need to complete in order to teach. Cable TV and the internet will rapidly become your best friends for video clips, articles, documentaries and research; you can teach music by using YouTube or practice organisational skills together through Farmville. The box is only as idiotic as the priorities of its user.
While the basics are universal, homeschooling offers virtually unlimited possibilities for tailoring them to the learning style and preferences of the child. A quick google search or a visit to a bookstore specialising in textbooks will enable you to cross-check the boards that cover the topics you want, and in the style that you prefer.
With each topic, list out what your child has to know, what else is connected with it, and what more is available if he is interested. He could just develop a deep interest in a facet of Taxonomy! Don’t be surprised if your child develops obscure and highly specific interests and skills; it’s an advantage - some say a side-effect - of getting to learn the way one likes. You may have to bear in mind that your child may not necessarily be interested in pursuing some - or many - things beyond the basics. Do not push too hard when that is the case, but don’t compromise on them learning what they need to know, either.
A most important tip: Branch out from textbooks! The best way to learn is from an expert (who writes from a place of passion and expertise) rather than a textbook author (who is primarily focused on being readily comprehensible). I learned geography and zoology by reading Gerald Durrell’s books on his expeditions, James Herriott’s stories of country veterinary practice, and watching/reading David Attenborough’s The Living Planet. I learned world history through reading James Michener, Leon Uris, Jawaharlal Nehru; science - from Isaac Asimov’s books on basic astronomy and physics. Of course, this approach leaves gaps in knowledge (particularly in the raw basics), but that is where the textbooks, encyclopaedias, and educational CDs come in.
Some resources: DK’s encyclopaedias and Picturepaedias are a treasure trove; so is the Childcraft series, which covers poetry and literary needs as well as science and general knowledge. Collect posters, flashcard sets, and quiz-based board games; they will always come in handy. At a more advanced level, you can find the Time-Life series, National Geographic archives, and a plethora of Discovery Channel and BBC documentaries on everything from aardvarks to zygotes.
On the internet, Youtube is a valuable resource (when used right), as are other child or information-oriented websites such as the BBC’s, or the USGS (United States Geological Survey), or NASA.
A quick Google search will run up enough math or grammar exercises to keep even the most grimly industrious little quiz-lover occupied for years. For the literary-inclined and an older child with a computer, Project Gutenberg uploads, HTML and notepad versions of all books with expired copyrights, are a cheap, efficient and legal alternative to spending huge amounts on buying up the classics.
For the rest... keep your eyes open and keep looking. For every resource in here, there are a hundred out there, that your child might adore. Have a wonderful time exploring!
There were other children around for me, for a significant chunk of the day. I attended Tamil, civics and physical sciences classes with other children; all my extra-curricular activities were in groups. Since my school-time wrapped up by 3:00 pm, I had a whole evening to run around with other kids, climb trees, play in fields, get very muddy, play in irrigation canals, photograph cloud formations, or even just sit and read and listen to music, if I was in the mood. I was not athletic but was very interested in getting wet/muddy/covered with stray foliage and dog fur in the shortest amount of time. My loneliness – and I was, at times, very lonely – had more to do with being far more intellectual than my age group. There are millions who have undergone perfectly traditional education who have felt precisely that isolation.
The socialisation and social skills that children need are not always acquired by passing out from the modern Swargavaasal (Gate to heaven) of schools. They come from spending time with other children, and around their mental/emotional age group, which may be quite different. They also come from spending time with adults.
(Nirupama Raghavan was home schooled. She was 16 when her translation Parthiban’s Dream was published; she has written Pavo and Cavo a picture story book for children; besides a number of poems.)
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